July 23, 2024

Illness Prompts Alaska to Issue Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Warning

A probable case of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) has prompted the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to issue a warning about recreationally harvested shellfish. PSP can cause death within hours of ingestion. Commercially harvested shellfish is tested are considered safe to eat.

Important RecallPSP is a toxin produced by algae during the warmest months of the year. When shellfish eat the algae, the toxin accumulates in their bodies. It cannot be e cooked, cleaned or frozen out of shellfish. When the contaminated shellfish is eaten is causes paralysis. Symptoms begin with a tingling sensation on the lips and tongue and moves to the fingers and toes.  Depending how much of the toxin is ingested it progresses to loss of control of arms and legs,  difficulty breathing and death in as little as two hours.

Health officials say anyone eating who has eats recreationally harvested shellfish and experiences numbness or tingling should see a doctor right away. PSP is considered a public health emergency. Suspected cases must be reported immediately to the Section of Epidemiology by health care providers at 907-269-8000 during work hours or 800-478-0084 after hours.

While any kind of shellfish can contain PSP, the current case involves razor and possibly butter clams harvested from Clam Gulch on June 15. The clams were harvested about 1.5 miles down the beach near the big tower. The patient began experiencing typical symptoms of PSP approximately four hours after ingesting the shellfish.

Looking for signs of a “red tide” is not an effective way to tell if a beach is safe for harvesting. PSP can be present in large amounts even if the water looks clear and  the toxin can remain in shellfish long after the algae bloom is gone.



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